Taking Back Power in Brentford

Give people the opportunity and they take it!


ISLEWORTH: Mon 6 July, Isleworth Town Hall, 7.30pm;
HOUNSLOW: Tues 7 July, Montague Hall, 7.30pm;
BRENTFORD: Wed 8 July, St Paul's Church, 7.30pm;
CHISWICK: Thurs 9 July, Chiswick Town Hall, 7.30pm.

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Around 50 people attended St Paul's Church on Wednesday for what turned out to be an interesting debate around the topics of expenses and democratic reform.

On the panel were Cllr Andrew Dakers (Lib Dem), Cllr Jon Hardy (Independent), John Hunt (Green) and Mary Macleod (Conservative), chaired by Kath Richardson (Editor, BrentfordTW8.com). Please note, many have wondered, that Macleod is pronounced "Mac Cloud" as in white clouds rather than any of the many variations heard. She also stated that she was not a merchant banker and never has been although she is a consultant in the banking industry. Jon Hardy apologised for not having been as coherent as he felt he could have, due to a minor car crash before the meeting.

Brentford's MP Ann Keen had been invited, as subsequently had Ruth Cadbury but neither of them could make it on fairly short notice.

It was a great pleasure to see, hear and put faces to so many regulars on TW8 forum: our unofficial photographer Jim Lawes put in a very quiet appearance, Stuart Parrott, Andrew Sibley and others whose names weren't mentioned (apologies to them). Councillor Phil Andrews popped in to listen. It was said that Brentford provided the liveliest debate out of the 3 so far and it's good to know that people were interested enough to attend and engage in debate.

Issues/Suggestions raised were:

  • independent watchdog to monitor MPs expenses with powers of prosecution (although who hires and monitors them)
  • it shouldn't just be about MPs expenses, in most fields people at the top get 'ridiculously high' salary, expenses and pensions
  • transparency of information - no point in publishing expenses online if most of the details are blacked out, although recognise that some details are private and rightly so
  • details of all expenses, whether those of councillors or MPs should be available online for perusal by any who so choose
  • amount that councillors received was queried: £10.5k (k=thousand) for the humblest councillor up to £34k odd for the leader (according to Jon Hardy, and if someone can explain whether this is issued as salary, subject to PAYE etc. or in some other form, please do)
  • is the money paid to councillors justified? Jon Hardy said without the £18k he received annually he couldn't afford to do the job and even then he dipped into savings. Andrew Dakers stated he received £10.5k which he combined with full-time or part time work, or even no work.
  • The comment was made that councillors didn't used to be paid and therefore why should they now. There was a general feel that keeping it unpaid would restrict councillors to white middle-class businessmen or retired and that it couldn't be inclusive
  • Expenses were also seen to reflect the widening gap between the very rich and the very poor, that there is too much wealth at the top
  • the fact that people wanted independent monitoring of expenses was also seen to be indicative of a greater public trust in unelected officials rather than the elected members themselves, a sad reflection on the current view of politicians
  • comment was also made as to the 'foot dragging', the extremely slow response of the Speaker of the House of Commons and others to react positively to the expenses debacle and that more decisive action should have been taken faster
  • a large round of applause was the reward for the lady who said that the Keens' behaviour 'was a total disgrace' as was their lack of public comment/presence recently. She then suggested that people should join the Labour party in order to get Ann Keen deselected.
  • there should be a substantial cut in the numbers of unelected political advisors and especially at cabinet level
  • the total number of MPs should be reduced, some suggestions of one per borough
  • whips should be eliminated (Jon Hardy said that was essential for democracy) - there was a wide feeling that MPs and councillors should be more able to express their own views rather than the views of their party
  • Chairs of select committees should be voted on rather than selected
  • challenge was made to Mary that the Conservatives were 'useless' and always had been. Mary replied to the effect that you may disagree with what Margaret Thatcher had done, but you could not deny she hadn't done anything
  • candidate selection needs to be more open, with a greater attempt to entice 'ordinary people' to become MPs
  • 31% average attendance of MPs was a disgrace (increasingly long holidays should have got mentioned but didn't)
  • the two party confrontational system that we have means that skills and experience of MPs not in power fell by the wayside and that is a waste
  • proportional representation is the way forward , supported by most attendees and panel, although Mary was in favour of first past the post. Suggestion was made that main parties would never vote for change of first past the post as they benefited too strongly from it
  • Andrew Dakers suggested that the no overall control at Hounslow council had led to greater cross party debate and that the argument that a parliament without a strong majority would not succeed was therefore invalid
  • Danger of BNP having been elected as MEPs, with the expenses that they get needed to be dealt with. A general perception that a vote for the BNP was not so much a vote for them, but a vote to express disaffection with MPs
  • People should be willing to accept a cut in salary in order to serve the public and that salaries did not need to equally match those in the private sector
  • the enthusiasm of the people needs to be harnessed and used
  • Teresa Vanneck-Surplice of Richmond said she would like to stand as an Independent candidate next year, and would move to Brentford if she won . She had made this announcement at the two previous meetings as well
  • Disaffection is with the two party system rather than politics
  • Decisions need to be made at the appropriate level for those decisions and there needs to be greater transparency surrounding where decisions are made.

If any points have been missed off, please post them on the forum.

Jon Hunt also reminded people of two meetings next week:

On Monday 13th, 7-9pm at the Council Chamber is the Adult Health & Social Care - Overview & Scrutiny Panel with papers downloadable at:
where concerns about the West Middlesex Hospital are expected to take up a large part of the meeting.

On Tuesday 14th, 6:30 - 8:30 pm outside the Council Chamber is Hounslow LINk - Local Involvement NetworK where the second half of the meeting should allow members of the public to discuss problems encountered with local provision of healthcare and social care.

Details of the Sustainable Communities Act can be found at Unlock Democracy and people are urged to vote on local issues before the deadline of the 31st July. This is everybody's opportunity to drive central government policy.

July 10, 2009